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  Tampa Bay Buccaneers - Team Report
December 30, 2011
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The Bucs have nothing to do but play spoilers while the Falcons are simply spoiled.

Coach Mike Smith has the Falcons back in the playoffs for the third time in four years while recording the team's fourth straight winning record.

Meanwhile, Tampa Bay is trying to avoid a 10-game losing streak to end the season, which could bring on big changes and perhaps the firing of coach Raheem Morris.

The Bucs, who began the season 4-2, including a 16-13 win over Atlanta at Raymond James Stadium, are too young and too injured to overcome their predicament.

Nowhere is that more evident than at the defensive tackle position, where Gerald McCoy is out for the season with a torn biceps, Brian Price has two bad ankles, Roy Miller is playing with a bad back and waiver pick-up Albert Haynesworth was inactive last week at Carolina.

The problem with the Bucs has been turnovers. During its nine-game losing streak, Tampa Bay has 28 giveaways.

This week, Morris said players were going "outside the box," trying to make plays, resulting in blown assignments and turnovers.

"It's never an easy thing when you're losing football games, especially this many in a row," said quarterback Josh Freeman. "It's been a struggle. Talking to (running backs coach) Steve Logan, he talks about when things aren't going your way, there are two ways you can go with it. Some people turn it down and don't want anything to do with it. Other people may tend to press a little hard and I think that's where I was this year with my decision-making at times.

"But you have to step back and look at where you are and try to get better every day and work on those things that might limit you as a player. I take that attitude into this game and into the offseason."

The Falcons are coming off a lopsided loss at New Orleans and they know they may see the Saints in the first round of the playoffs. But so far, there is no indication they plan to rest players Sunday.

"Our preparation week is going to be no different than any other week," Smith said. "We know there are some things that are set in concrete. We know we'll be playing the following week. We don't know who or where or when, and we've just got to go through our normal preparation and prepare to beat Tampa Bay.

"That's our entire focus this week. We're not thinking about the second season."

The Falcons could be locked into the sixth seed by the time the game kicks off at 4:15 p.m. If the Lions defeat the Packers at 1 p.m., the Falcons would be unable to move into the fifth seed. If the Lions lose, the Falcons could clinch the fifth seed by beating the Bucs.

All-Pro tight end Tony Gonzalez said the Falcons want to play to win after their 45-16 thumping at the hands of the Saints on Monday night.

"It's business as usual around here," Gonzalez said. "We're going to try to go out and win a football game against a really good team that beat us earlier in the season. I don't think anybody's mind-set around here is that we're going to go ahead and rest, especially after last week the way we performed against the Saints. We have to go out there and put on a good performance going into the playoffs."

SERIES HISTORY: 37th regular-season meeting. Buccaneers lead series, 19-17. The Bucs picked up a 16-13 win in Tampa earlier this season. The Bucs had a 10-9 edge over the Falcons since the NFC South was created in 2002.



PLAYER/PERSONNEL NOTES



--Ronde Barber did more than just show up every day for work, but the record he may be remembered most for is how many times he punched in and out of the office.

On Sunday at Atlanta, by simply by walking onto the field at the Georgia Dome for his 225th career game, Barber will pass LB Derrick Brooks on the Bucs' all-time list for games played, in the final game of his 15th NFL season.

Barber's greatness as a player is no longer questioned, not like it was when he was burned in his first pro game in 1997 by Cardinals' receiver Rob Moore, who caught eight passes for 147 yards and a touchdown. Barber was benched for the rest of the regular season before returning to the lineup in the second round of the playoffs against the Green Bay Packers.

"You know what? I'll be as proud of my last game, whenever that is, as I was my first game," Barber said. "My mom tells me the same thing every time I play: play proud."

Barber can certainly take pride in his career -- 43 interceptions, 27 sacks, 1,138 tackles, five Pro Bowls and a Super Bowl title. But his devotion to detail, the way he carries himself as an adult while playing with child-like enthusiasm, his professional approach to his job, which is really playing a game, will be his legacy.

"I don't know what means the most. It's probably the respect that I have out of the building because of all these things and how I've been as a player on and off the field," Barber said. "That's all you've got is your legacy when you're done. Not that I'm done. I could be. But it's about how I went about my job, how I approached this business. I had a lot of fun in it. I think everybody that's been around has seen that."

--QB Josh Freeman says there were several games this season when opposing defensive players made it known they were wary of facing G Davin Joseph.

"I remember Ndamukong Suh before the first game said, 'Man, you've got to keep 75 from cheap (shots)'" Freeman said. "I'm like, 'Are you really telling me this? You of all people?' Guys throughout the year said the same thing. (Texans linebacker) Brian Cushing comes to mind. They know about Davin, they know how a great player he is and it's great to have him on our team."

Joseph, who signed a seven-year, $52.5-million contract before the season, was named to his second Pro Bowl in four seasons Tuesday.

It was a rare individual honor for a 4-11 Bucs team that has lost nine straight games heading into Sunday's season finale at Atlanta.

"It's tough to make it," Joseph said. "We have a talented league, a talented division. But it just shows how much work we put up front, challenging each other on a day-to-day basis, always looking to get better. It's just a reflection on how hard the offensive line has been working this year and I'm just proud to be the one chosen."

--Coach Raheem Morris was the least bit surprised to see Saints QB Drew Brees break Dan Marino's single-season passing yardage record.

As a division foe, Morris has game-planned for Brees and the Saints six times as Bucs' head coach and four other times as a Tampa Bay assistant. If anyone is familiar with the precision with which Brees plays and the relentlessness of the Saints' passing game, it's Morris.

"I told you: Every week, win, lose or draw, (Brees) is going to throw for 300 yards," Morris said. "Every single week. Except he got 260 on us. He's phenomenal ... He is certainly something to watch."

BY THE NUMBERS: The Bucs have caused 22 turnovers this season, scoring 65 points off those takeaways. But on the other end, Tampa Bay has 36 giveaways and has allowed 107 points off those turnovers. That's a net difference of 42 points.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "When we lost a couple games, guys kind of got uptight." -- QB Josh Freeman.



STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

The biggest thing to watch for the Bucs is the increased roles of RBs Mossis Madu and Kregg Lumpkin. Starting tailback LeGarrette Blount fumbled on the first offensive snap of the game at Carolina and was benched. Blount will be back against the Falcons, but the Bucs may opt to continue to spread the field and limit his touches.

PLAYER NOTES

--WR Arrelious Benn has a neck injury and did not practice Wednesday.

--DT Albert Haynesworth, who was inactive last week against Carolina with a knee injury, did not practice again Wednesday.

--DT Roy Miller has been playing with a back injury but was added to the injury report when he did not practice Wednesday.

--T Jeremy Trueblood has a concussion and did not practice Wednesday.

--WR Preston Parker, who suffered a concussion last week at Carolina, did not practice Wednesday.

INJURY IMPACT

Injuries have been a big part of the story for the Bucs, particularly at defensive tackle. DT Gerald McCoy was a disruptive force, and even though he didn't have huge numbers, he created one-on-one matchups for DE Brian Price and rookie DE Adrian Clayborn, who leads the team with 7.5 sacks. The Bucs are so depleted at defensive tackle that only three healthy players at that position may be in uniform Sunday. That means you could see DE Michael Bennett at defensive tackle in some rush situations.

GAME PLAN: The Falcons can pick their poison against a defense that stands to become the worst in franchise history. Tampa Bay is allowing 29.9 points per game, the most in the NFL. Will Atlanta pound the ball with Michael Turner? The Bucs are 31st in rushing defense, allowing 149 yards per game. Do the Falcons want to stretch the field with Julio Jones? No problem. The Bucs are without cover CB Aqib Talib, who is on injured reserve with a hamstring strain. Roddy White? Tony Gonzalez? All unstoppable weapons at QB Matt Ryan's disposal this week.

Look for the Bucs to dare Ryan to throw the ball down the field, which they believe he isn't comfortable doing. And Tampa Bay will once again play man coverage, giving Ryan tight windows to throw in.

Offensively, the Bucs could continue to spread the field with three and four receivers and get Josh Freeman into some kind of rhythm early in the game with a no-huddle offense. Kregg Lumpkin and Mossis Madu were effective in that offense last week at Carolina.

MATCHUPS TO WATCH: Falcons WR Roddy White vs. Bucs CB E.J. Biggers -- White was snubbed for the Pro Bowl despite 96 catches for 1,227 yards. The Bucs are without injured CB Aqib Talib, so Biggers gets the nod. A horrible matchup for the Bucs.

Bucs CB Ronde Barber vs. Falcons TE Tony Gonzalez -- At 5-foot-9, Barber gives away too much size to Gonzalez, who draws more man coverage with the addition of WR Julio Jones.

   
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